A lot is being written about natural wines at the moment, even our famously sceptical Joe Gilmour wrote about it! Some love them, some hate them, they leave no one indifferent. It is true that some of them can be dangerously sliding towards the kingdom of funkiness but when everything goes well and foul smelling bacteria are kept at bay, the result can be out of this world.
Originally from Normandy, Stephanie Roussel had spent the last few years working behind the counter of a wine bar in Bordeaux when she decided to buy Château Lassolle in 2002. Château Lassole is a domaine of 10 ha located in the Côtes de Marmandais, just south-east of Bordeaux and planted with old vines of Abouriou, Cot, Fer, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Gris. In a world where the South West struggles to survive next to the big guns of Bordeaux, buying a property in the Marmandais was a bold move but it wasn’t enough of a challenge for Stephanie so she decided to convert the vineyard to biodynamics. She quickly saw a change; the vines started to look healthier and gave fruit of much better quality, sweeter, more intense and complex. Happy with the results she set out to carry on the good work in the cellar where she now takes a back seat and let nature do its job, intervening as little as possible and reducing the use of chemicals to the strict minimum. She uses barely a pinch of sulphur at bottling and that’s it.
Unfortunately I haven’t tried the reds from the Château but I’ve had the chance to taste their 100% Sauvignon Gris on three different occasions and have never been disappointed. Sauvignon Gris, a pink-skinned mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, is an old and traditional grape of Bordeaux but fell out of favour due to its low yields. However, having slipped under most winemakers’ radars for the best part of 40 years, it is enjoying a bit of a revival, notably in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley but also in Chile. Not quite as aromatically pungent as its famous cousin, it has higher sugar levels and tends to produce fuller bodied wines but with the same sort of sharpness.
I have not tried any Sauvignon Gris apart from this one but, if this example is anything to go by, I would recommend everyone to rush out and get their hands on it. It’s absolutely beautiful! The nose bursts with fresh peaches, apricot and a sort of guarrigue like character where lavender and dried herbs come together. The palate is quite rich and silky, almost reminiscent of a Meursault due to the fat and slight savouriness of the mid-palate but there’s also a fresh mineral note that brings everything alive and carries the wine through to a long and mouthwatering finish. So lovely, I could drink it all day.
I should probably warn people though, this wine being what we call a “natural wine”, it needs a bit of tender love and care. First of all it’s definitely not bright and clear, it’s slightly hazy and the colour veers towards the light orange of an apricot. Second of all, for reasons that I won’t bore you with, the wine is ever so slightly reduced on opening and needs to breathe for a while before it gives everything away. I would recommend decanting it for a good hour before drinking. I know it’s all a bit tedious and we’re not all prepared to go through such hard work every day, but those of us who will will be greatly rewarded, believe me.